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The Book of Acts Series

Acts, Chapter 7

John Baugh

August, 2009

 

Acts 7 (New American Standard Bible)

 

Recalling Chapter 6: 8-15

8And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. 9But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. 10But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11Then they secretly induced men to say, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God."

12And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council. 13They put forward false witnesses who said, "This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; 14for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us."

15And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel.

 

Luke reports that Stephen was accomplishing great wonders and signs. Through his public actions, he became a problem. Apparently his accomplishments caused problems at the synagogue of the Freedmen (former slaves who had been granted freedom) where Stephen likely was worshiping. Several men in the synagogue rose up and argued with Stephen, likely arguing with his witness about Jesus and scripture. Being unable to cope with the wisdom of his position, they induced others to say that he was guilty of blasphemous speech against Moses and God.

These were serious charges and Stephen was likely arrested and brought up before the council (the Sanhedrin). IN that court, they once again testified falsely about Stephen, accusing him of speaking out against the Temple and the Law - perhaps not the commandments, but the many laws that the Jews observed. Specifically they said that Stephen stated that Jesus (a Nazarene) would destroy the Temple and alter the customs which had been handed down by Moses.

Luke says that during all of this Stephen had an unearthly calmness - "the face of an angel".

 

Stephen's story continues in Chapter seven.

 ********************

The persecution of the church in Jerusalem comes to a climax in Chapter 7 as Stephen is tried before the High Priest.

Stephen's Defense

1The high priest said, "Are these things so?"

 

 

To preach the destruction of the Temple would have been a serious crime, and that is the question concerning the High Priest. In response to the question, Stephen begins a lengthy discussion of Jewish history: And so he begins with God and Abraham. Stephen would tell the Sanhedrin that God was not just the God of Israel. IN fact, His relationship started with a man from Mesoptamia.

 

 

2And he said, "Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3and said to him, 'LEAVE YOUR COUNTRY AND YOUR RELATIVES, AND COME INTO THE LAND THAT I WILL SHOW YOU.'

4"Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran From there, after his father died, God had him move to this country in which you are now living. 5"But He gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground, and yet, even when he had no child, He promised that HE WOULD GIVE IT TO HIM AS A POSSESSION, AND TO HIS DESCENDANTS AFTER HIM.

6"But God spoke to this effect, that his DESCENDANTS WOULD BE ALIENS IN A FOREIGN LAND, AND THAT THEY WOULD BE ENSLAVED AND MISTREATED FOR FOUR HUNDRED YEARS. 7" 'AND WHATEVER NATION TO WHICH THEY WILL BE IN BONDAGE I MYSELF WILL JUDGE,' said God, 'AND AFTER THAT THEY WILL COME OUT AND SERVE ME IN THIS PLACE.'

8"And He gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs. 9"The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt. Yet God was with him, 10and rescued him from all his afflictions, and granted him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he made him governor over Egypt and all his household. 11"Now a famine came over all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction with it, and our fathers could find no food. 12"But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers there the first time. 13"On the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph's family was disclosed to Pharaoh.

14"Then Joseph sent word and invited Jacob his father and all his relatives to come to him, seventy-five persons in all. 15"And Jacob went down to Egypt and there he and our fathers died. 16"From there they were removed to Shechem and laid in the tomb which Abraham had purchased for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor in Shechem. 17"But as the time of the promise was approaching which God had assured to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt, 18until THERE AROSE ANOTHER KING OVER EGYPT WHO KNEW NOTHING ABOUT JOSEPH.

19"It was he who took shrewd advantage of our race and mistreated our fathers so that they would expose their infants and they would not survive. 20"It was at this time that Moses was born; and he was lovely in the sight of God, and he was nurtured three months in his father's home. 21"And after he had been set outside, Pharaoh's daughter took him away and nurtured him as her own son. 22"Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds. 23"But when he was approaching the age of forty, it entered his mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel. 24"And when he saw one of them being treated unjustly, he defended him and took vengeance for the oppressed by striking down the Egyptian. 25"And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him, but they did not understand. 26"On the following day he appeared to them as they were fighting together, and he tried to reconcile them in peace, saying, 'Men, you are brethren, why do you injure one another?'

27"But the one who was injuring his neighbor pushed him away, saying, 'WHO MADE YOU A RULER AND JUDGE OVER US? 28'YOU DO NOT MEAN TO KILL ME AS YOU KILLED THE EGYPTIAN YESTERDAY, DO YOU?'

29"At this remark, MOSES FLED AND BECAME AN ALIEN IN THE LAND OF MIDIAN, where he became the father of two sons. 30"After forty years had passed, AN ANGEL APPEARED TO HIM IN THE WILDERNESS OF MOUNT Sinai, IN THE FLAME OF A BURNING THORN BUSH.

31"When Moses saw it, he marveled at the sight; and as he approached to look more closely, there came the voice of the Lord: 32'I AM THE GOD OF YOUR FATHERS, THE GOD OF ABRAHAM AND ISAAC AND JACOB.' Moses shook with fear and would not venture to look.

33"BUT THE LORD SAID TO HIM, 'TAKE OFF THE SANDALS FROM YOUR FEET, FOR THE PLACE ON WHICH YOU ARE STANDING IS HOLY GROUND. 34'I HAVE CERTAINLY SEEN THE OPPRESSION OF MY PEOPLE IN EGYPT AND HAVE HEARD THEIR GROANS, AND I HAVE COME DOWN TO RESCUE THEM; COME NOW, AND I WILL SEND YOU TO EGYPT.'

35"This Moses whom they disowned, saying, 'WHO MADE YOU A RULER AND A JUDGE?' is the one whom God sent to be both a ruler and a deliverer with the help of the angel who appeared to him in the thorn bush. 36"This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in the land of Egypt and in the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. 37"This is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel, 'GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN.'

38"This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living oracles to pass on to you. 39"Our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him, but repudiated him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt,

40SAYING TO AARON, 'MAKE FOR US GODS WHO WILL GO BEFORE US; FOR THIS MOSES WHO LED US OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT--WE DO NOT KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM.'

41"At that time they made a calf and brought a sacrifice to the idol, and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. 42"But God turned away and delivered them up to serve the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, 'IT WAS NOT TO ME THAT YOU OFFERED VICTIMS AND SACRIFICES FORTY YEARS IN THE WILDERNESS, WAS IT, O HOUSE OF ISRAEL? 43'YOU ALSO TOOK ALONG THE TABERNACLE OF MOLOCH AND THE STAR OF THE GOD ROMPHA, THE IMAGES WHICH YOU MADE TO WORSHIP. I ALSO WILL REMOVE YOU BEYOND BABYLON.'

44"Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern which he had seen. 45"And having received it in their turn, our fathers brought it in with Joshua upon dispossessing the nations whom God drove out before our fathers, until the time of David. 46"David found favor in God's sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47"But it was Solomon who built a house for Him.

48"However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says:
    49'HEAVEN IS MY THRONE,
         AND EARTH IS THE FOOTSTOOL OF MY FEET;
         WHAT KIND OF HOUSE WILL YOU BUILD FOR ME?' says the Lord,
         'OR WHAT PLACE IS THERE FOR MY REPOSE?
    50'WAS IT NOT MY HAND WHICH MADE ALL THESE THINGS?'

Stephen's defense:

In his lengthy statement to the Sanhedrin, Stephen begins with tracing God's relationship with Israel, beginning with Abraham in Mesopotamia and progresses through Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, to the story of Moses (who delivered his people). In his defense, Stephen presents the longest speech in the book of Acts. Dividing his speech, Stephen covers different aspects of Israel's  history:

 

·         Abraham’s calling (7:2-8);

·         the Patriarchs in Egypt (7:9-16);

·         life of Moses (7:17-36);

·         Moses and Israel in the wilderness (7:37-43);

·         The Tabernacle of Testimony (7:44-50).

 

 

Stephen points out that throughout Jewish history, God had raised up leaders to deliver His people, but the Israelites rejected them, including Moses (7:35). They foolishly believed that they were in God’s presence as long as they worshiped in the temple. But God’s presence in the original moveable "temple," the tabernacle, did not keep the Israelites from idolatry (7:39-42). Thus, the Jews were mistaken when they thought that God dwelled in the midst of the nation simply because the temple was in Jerusalem (7:44-50).

 

Stephen's defense brought home the point: that those who claimed to be the people of God never obeyed Him in faith. His accusers always rejected the saving message of God and whoever delivered it.

He concludes with a stinging attack on the powers of the Temple:

51"You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. 52"Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it."

Stephen calls the Sanhedrin stiff-necked. He says that in their heart they are not Jews (uncircumcised). He uses the words that the Jewish authorities would use to refer to heathens. In Stephen's opinion, at heart, the Jewish authorities are no better than heathens. He indicts the Jewish leaders for their failure to recognize Jesus Christ as their Messiah or to appreciate the salvation provided in him.

Stephen Put to Death

54Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. 55But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."

57But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. 58When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" 60Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" Having said this, he fell asleep.

 

Acquisition of Blame for the Death of Jesus:

Stephen places the death of Jesus squarely on the shoulders of the Sanhedrin, the spiritual leaders of the Temple and the nation of Israel. The Sanhedrin’s response to Stephen’s speech is absolute rage. When they hear Stephen’s condemnation, they were "cut to the quick" and were "began gnashing their teeth at him" (7:54).

 

Then Stephen seals his fate as he, "full of the Holy Spirit" (7:55), has a vision of the glory of God, and Jesus standing at his right hand.

 

Acts 7:55-60 tell Stephen’s vision of Christ Jesus

 

 

-          Stephen was full of The Holy Spirit

-          He Saw The Glory of God (in Heaven - God dwells in heaven, not in temples made with hands)

-          He saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God (see Psalm 110:1) (This is Jesus, as he really is - worthy of worship, of complete devotion and obedience even to death.)

-          The heavens were opened up to reveal Christ

-          He saw the Son of Man at the Right Hand of God (the only time "the Son of Man" is used outside of the Gospels and the only time it is used by a disciple.)

 

 

 

This brings the council to a frenzied hatred. Stephen is judged to be blaspheming the Sanhedrin. The penalty for blasphemy was stoning to death (Deuteronomy 13:6). Luke indicates that the Sanhedrin is turning into a vicious mob. "Yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him" (7:57-58).

 

Stephen becomes the first martyr to die for the name of Jesus.

 

There is no formal trial. A Roman form of execution was not used - Stephen is stoned. Even with a trial and guilty verdict, Rome has not given the Sanhedrin any right to put people to death for this offense, and they are supposed to confer with the Roman authority regarding capital punishment cases (John 18:31). This shows the intense anger of the Sanhedrin - they were so angry that they did not follow proper procedures.

 

 

 

As the angry mob stoned Stephen, he:

 

-          Called on the Lord “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!”

-          He cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this against them!”

 

 

Then he died

The cost of proclaiming Jesus to those who were in control of the Temple was Stephen's life.

In showing us how Stephen died, Luke also shows us how to live.

 

Similarities to Jesus:

 

As he lay dying, Stephen asks that the risen Jesus receive his spirit, and that his killers be forgiven. Stephen is following his Savior, who also asks forgiveness for his executioners (Luke 23:34). Stephen shows the same spirit of faith and forgiveness that characterized Jesus.

 

-          Stephen has grace and power

-          He works wonders and signs among the people (6:8)

-          He enters into dispute with those who challenge him (6:9; see Luke 20:1-7), including those who are sent as spies (6:11; see Luke 20:20).

-          He is arrested (6:12; see Luke 22:54) and brought to trial before the Sanhedrin (6:12-15; see Luke 22:66-71)

-          False witnesses accuse him (6:13)

-          Stephen is taken out of the city to be executed (7:58) as was Jesus (23:32).

-          At his death Stephen prays that his spirit be accepted (7:59) as did Jesus (Luke 23:46)

-          Stephen asks forgiveness of his murderers (7:60) as did Jesus (23:34)

-          Stephen is buried by pious people (8:2) as was Jesus (Luke 23:50-55).

 

The same power and prophetic spirit that characterize Jesus is at work in his disciples.

 

As he was dying on the cross, Jesus said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!" (Luke 23:46). But Stephen commits his spirit to Jesus directly. That is a striking difference. Words applied to the Father are now addressed to the Son. For the early church, Jesus was in the role of God, in the sense of being the one who saves us. Even at this early date in its history, the church already had a "high" Christology.

 

 

 

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